When someone asked a hermit to define humility, he answered, “Humility is when you forgive someone who has wronged you before he expresses regret.”

I cannot think of how many times in my experience the subject of apologies has come up along with the subject of forgiveness. Of course when someone asks forgiveness we should forgive – indeed, it would seem that according to Christ’s commandments we sin if we refuse such a request. But there is a certain satisfaction, even a certain affirmation of our own correctness when such an apology is forthcoming. Many an unbeliever could be so magnanimous.

But to forgive before we have been asked can be a great act of humility – not if we do so because we are so good – but that we do so because we are empyting ourselves of the demand for human justice (on a personal level) and equality. We “take the lower seat.” And we can do so because such emptying holds the promise of the fullness of God. Such lowering holds the promise of exaltation with Christ.

Before ever He was asked, Christ extended forgiveness to the world. From the Cross he prayed for us, “For they know not what they do.” He had already emptied Himself. We may forgive, indeed should forgive as Christ forgave, in order to be like Him. Or do we despise such an honor?

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.





15 responses to “Humility”

  1. fatherstephen Avatar

    Photo: My son and my parent’s trailer. I like the shot.

  2. Pastor Chad Avatar

    If we do it “because such emptying holds the promise of the fullness of God. Such lowering holds the promise of exaltation with Christ.” are we really being humble or simply seeking reward?

  3. Sibyl Avatar

    Some motives for forgiving that enable me to forgive and to continue in the state of forgiveness…
    1. Obedience, to please the Lord and conform to His Word
    2. To restore His peace in my heart and soul
    3. To loose myself from the error of trying to do God’s work (judgment and/or vengeance).

    Jesus gave five directives re enemies: love, do good to, pray for, bless and forgive. When I start with praying and blessing, the rest seem to follow as my heart is changed and my burden lifted.

  4. David Pe‡er Pitts Avatar

    Pastor Chad asked, “If we do it “because such emptying holds the promise of the fullness of God. Such lowering holds the promise of exaltation with Christ.” are we really being humble or simply seeking reward?”

    I wonder if it is a matter of seeking reward, as Pastor Chad presumes, or if it is expecting the inevitable? Perhaps a better way of expressing it instead of “expectig the inevitable” is “understanding the consequences” or some other similar phrase.

    When I breathe in, I expect to breath out. I don’t expect it as a reward, I expect it because that is the natural flow of things. I remember when I was learning to scuba dive, we were taught to keep breathing out as we were ascending. This is contrary to what is normal or expected. The gas in the lungs are expanding as the pressure decreases. If you don’t breath out more, your lungs will explode. Such emptying of my lungs holds the promise of another breath.

    Is this not similar to the experience with Humility? We breath out humility and we breath in “the exaltation with Christ.”

  5. fatherstephen Avatar

    David, your description is certainly much closer. Christ went to the Cross “for the joy set before Him,” according to Scripture, but we do not understand that to mean anything less than self-emptying love. To act on the basis of a promise, is to act in faith or hope, not in selfishness. If my language mislead: forgive me.

  6. Margaret Avatar

    Thank you for this encouragement, Fr. Stephen.

    God has blessed me with a situation where I needed to forgive in order to even get through the day and get on with my life. I could not do it. There was nothing in me. I prayed and prayed that I would, that I could forgive and Jesus Christ came and forgave and so because of Him I forgave, it was as if I forgave “in Christ” and in time my Lord showed me how to forgive from my own heart. Does this make since? It was such a blessing! I was so desperate.

    God is good all the time and all things on the earth above the earth and beneath the earth sing praises.

  7. Mrs. Mutton Avatar
    Mrs. Mutton

    It isn’t just forgiving someone who has done us wrong, whether or not they ask forgiveness — I think it’s also a question of asking forgiveness ourselves, because it does take two to cause a rupture in a relationship. The only One Who was right 100% of the time was our Lord. It does take effort, but I’ve found that when I ask forgiveness of someone who has wronged me, the whole dynamic is turned upside down — either great progress can be made in the relationship, or that person remains unforgiving and goes on to experience very bitter fruit. But I myself am always liberated from bitterness. And yes, there are many times when I have to ask the Lord for His help.

  8. Allen Long Avatar
    Allen Long

    Yes, Mrs. Mutton. . . “forgive us our sins as we forgive. . .” I think the prayer of our Lord wisely acknowledges what you expressed.

  9. RJackson Avatar

    In a previous confession, I had mentioned holding onto a grudge I had with someone. For my penance the priest had me say prayers for those I had a grudge against. It was in these prayers that I realized not only a lack of charity (which I had expected) but a real hatred that had manifested itself. Forgiving those who haven’t asked for forgiveness who “don’t deserve forgiveness” (obviously who, including myself does) takes such an incredible act of the will. I pray I will one day have the humility that is necessary, but I know I don’t have it yet. On a random side note Father, in the Orthodox confession does the priest request that the penitent perform some sort of penance after the confession is over? It would make sense if they did not, I just know how helpful for me this particular penance was, if not in humbling me, at least in making me more fully grasp my own sinfulness (which is perhaps the *beginning* of humility?).

  10. Nate Avatar

    I love the post! I am reminded of a story about St. Bernard of Clairvaux, who when asked what the four cardinal virtues were replied, “Humility, humility, humility, and humility.”

    As to why we should forgive…for love of God. Even when we go to confession, may we go to give glory to God. St. Bernard wrote, “You want me to tell you why God is to be loved and how much? I answer, the reason for loving God is God Himself; and the measure of love due to Him is immeasurable love…We are to love God for Himself, because of a twofold reason; nothing is more reasonable, nothing more profitable.”

    This is why I greatly admire the title of this blog, “Glory to God for All Things.”

    Pax et bonum.

  11. Isaac of Syria Avatar
    Isaac of Syria

    In one of his homilies my priest remarked that “it is impossible to offend a humble person.” I have to remind myself of that idea again and again when I am offended by being slighted or mocked or ignored.

  12. Catherine K. Avatar

    Our priest once said that it is our own pride and lack of humility that causes us to be offended. True humility is a gift from God and allows us to see ourselves as we really are – not as we might LIKE to see ourselves. If we can see ourselves as we really are – then it is impossible to be offended by anyone.

    He also reminded us on a rather regular basis that we cannot, in the end, be responsible for how others see us. We are responsible, however, for how we react to others. Forgiveness is acknowledging our own sins before God, and refusing to judge others – or letting go of it if we have already done so. There IS that “little” line in the Lords Prayer which has no ambiguity at all….

  13. fatherstephen Avatar


    Penenance sort of depends on the confessor. It is certainly a common practice in Orthodoxy – actually described in the canons. Good discernment is required but it should be helpful when rightly given and rightly received.

  14. Lucias Avatar

    This is a very good article on the topic of forgiveness.

    From a personal life experience, one that is ongoing, I have learned there is a difference between forgiveness and restoration, ie. welcoming back into ones circle.

    There are those who have wronged me, whom I have forgiven, yet because I also have responsibility to protect others I am not able to bring them into our circle of life. Partly because they have yet to acknowledge having done any wrong and partly because the severity of what was done. The responsibility to prevent them the opportunity to further harm others prevents me from welcoming them into our lives fully.

    This has taught me a lot about Christ and the judgment. He loves all of us, even the worst of sinners. Yet because he loves all of us he cannot welcome those into the circle of eternal communion that do not acknowledge that he is Lord and will not follow him. To do so would mean those who do love him and wish to live in perfect communion would be sacrificed.

    Even love and forgiveness cannot get past open sin and rebellion. And that is why Gods forgiveness will not result in the salvation of all men only those who accept it.

  15. fatherstephen Avatar


    Your points are well taken – particularly regarding safety of family, etc. I would state the question of eternal communion a little differently – all are invited, only some will not come because they do not want to. But His invitation is immutable.

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